The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARVEY BARTLE, III
Plaintiff, Berthold R. Kramer ("Kramer"), has brought this federal civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the Neshaminy School District ("the District"), located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and against the individual members of the District's Board of Directors ("the Board").
Kramer, who served as a science and biology teacher for the District for approximately 24 years, was terminated from his tenured employment at the Neshaminy Junior High School by the Board on May 22, 1990. The propriety of that termination was subsequently upheld in binding arbitration.
Kramer seeks reinstatement to his position, compensatory and punitive damages, and certain additional relief, including but not limited to reimbursement for his attorneys' fees and the costs of the suit. He claims entitlement to such relief on the following grounds:
(a) He was not given adequate pretermination notice of at least some of the charges against him including the charge of immorality or meaningful pretermination opportunity to be heard on at least some of the charges including that of immorality.
(b) His posttermination grievance procedure was tainted because the arbitrator had undisclosed relations with a member of the Board raising questions as to his impartiality.
Presently before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff has moved for a partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, and defendants have moved for summary judgment on all issues. For the reasons set forth below, the motion of plaintiff will be denied and the motion of defendants will be granted.
The standards for deciding summary judgment motions under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are well settled.
To obtain summary judgment, the moving party must establish that no genuine issues of material fact remain in dispute. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 2510, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).
In deciding whether the summary judgment standard has been met, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Mellon Bank Corp. v. First Union Real Estate Equity and Mortg. Invest., 951 F.2d 1399, 1404 (3d Cir. 1991). Where the moving party submits evidence in support of the motion which indicates that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the adverse party must submit evidence to resist the motion. Bare allegations or denials will not suffice. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress, 398 U.S. 144, 160-162, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 1609-1610, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Further, in ruling on a summary judgment motion a court may, in appropriate cases, render partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Cohen v. Board of Trustees, 867 F.2d 1455 (3d Cir. 1989) (in banc) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d).
In ruling on the outstanding summary judgment motions the critical question for this Court's determination is the adequacy of the pretermination procedures which defendant followed in terminating plaintiff's employment, and most particularly whether defendant gave Kramer adequate pretermination notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard.
In Pennsylvania tenured school district professional employees, such as Mr. Kramer, unquestionably have a property right in their continued employment. See 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 11-1122;
Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 105 S. Ct. 1487, 84 L. Ed. 2d 494 (1985). Because of the existence of this right, discharge procedures must comply with the due process clause of the Constitution. Ibid.
Due process unquestionably requires that "some form of hearing" be held before an individual is deprived of a property interest. It further requires that the opportunity exist "to be heard 'at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.'" Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S. Ct. 893, 902, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18 (1976) (quoting Armstrong v. Manzo, 380 U.S. 545, 552, 85 S. Ct. 1187, 1191, 14 L. Ed. 2d 62 (1965)). See also Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422, 102 S. Ct. 1148, 1156-1157, 1159, 71 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1982). This does not mean, however, that a full evidentiary hearing before discharge is always necessary or even usually required. In fact, the Supreme Court has stated that "the ordinary principle, established by our decisions, [is] that something less than an evidentiary hearing is sufficient prior to adverse administrative action." Mathews v. Eldridge, 96 S. Ct. at 907.
The Supreme Court's decision in Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, supra, which involved the termination of a non-professional school district employee, explained why full pretermination evidentiary hearings are not required. The Court stated:
. . . The tenured public employee is entitled to oral or written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer's evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story . . . . To require more than this prior to termination would intrude to an unwarranted extent on the government's interest in quickly removing an unsatisfactory employee.
Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 105 S. Ct. at 1495 (emphasis added; citations omitted).
Beginning in mid-1987, and on a reasonably consistent basis thereafter until the time of his discharge, plaintiff received written warnings from supervisory school board employees about his use of force against students in violation of the District's policy on corporal punishment. To assist plaintiff in modifying his behavior with respect to such handling of student discipline problems, the District embarked on a course of progressive discipline against Kramer (DX Jones Aff. A, P 8).
That course of conduct -- which included numerous meetings with respect to the complaints of undue force against students and a recommendation that Kramer seek professional help -- did not ultimately prove to be successful. As a result, the District Deputy Superintendent suspended plaintiff from his employment with pay on March 8, 1990, and the Board finally terminated him at a meeting held on May 22, 1990 (DX Jones Aff. A, P 14, 20).
On each of the numerous occasions when Kramer was alleged to have used force in contravention of District policy, interviews were promptly conducted, and investigations were otherwise undertaken, with respect to those incidents. The School District officials who conducted the interviews and investigations included the District Director of Human Resources, the Principal of Neshaminy Junior High School, the Vice Principal of Neshaminy Junior High School, and a District Deputy Superintendent. (See DX Jones Aff. A, P 11, 13, 15; Hoffman Aff. B, P 18; McMasters Aff. C, P 5; Stanford Aff. D, P 4). Further, with respect to each of the allegations of misconduct, the District gave Kramer notice of their substance and advised him of the nature of its evidence.
Kramer appeared at a series of meetings and grievance hearings to contest the charges of improper use of force and improper discipline. These were conducted on, among other dates, June 10, 1987, March 28, 1988, January 30, 1989, February 24, 1989, March 20, 1989, May 2, 1989, July 5, 1989, March 7, 1990, March 8, 1990, and March 14, 1990. The individuals attending these meetings and hearings varied. However, in addition to Kramer -- who usually had at least one union representative present -- participants included the District Superintendent and District Deputy Superintendent, the Neshaminy Junior High Principal and Vice Principal, and the District Director of Human Resources. (See DX Jones Aff. A, PP 10, 11, 13, 14, 20, 22; Hoffman Aff. B; McMasters Aff. C, PP 10-11, 19-21, 22, 35, 38; Stanford Aff. D, PP 4, 6-7, 9-10, 21-22, 27, 30). Besides attending these many meetings and hearings, Kramer was permitted to file written responses to the allegations and chose to do so on at least one occasion (DX Jones Aff. A, P 12, Ex. 6).
Following the May 2, 1989 meeting, Kramer's principal suspended him for five days without pay. Thereafter, additional incidents involving the improper use of force against students occurred. The District Deputy Superintendent indefinitely suspended Kramer, with pay, at the conclusion of a March 8, 1990 meeting regarding such incidents. That meeting was attended at least by Kramer, ...